A Michael Jackson Exhibition Just Opened in Finland Despite New Child Abuse Allegations Against the Singer

The museum's chief curator says the show is not a celebration of the singer.

KAWS, Interview Magazine, September 2009 (2009). Courtesy of KAWS.
KAWS, Interview Magazine, September 2009 (2009). Courtesy of KAWS.

An exhibition of art inspired by Michael Jackson has opened in Finland in the aftermath of new and shocking abuse allegations against the singer, documented in the recent documentary Leaving Neverland. 

The exhibition—which was first organized by Nicholas Cullinan last year for the National Portrait Gallery in London in cooperation with the singer’s estate—later travelled to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn. On August 21, it opened at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art.

While the singer was the subject of numerous allegations during his lifetime, more detailed accusations surfaced this spring, when Leaving Neverland aired on television. In it, two former associates of Jackson’s detail harrowing allegations of how they were groomed and sexually assaulted by the Pop star when they were children.

Despite the accusations, the exhibition opened in Germany and has now moved to Finland. The Espoo museum’s chief curator, Arja Miller, tells artnet News that the museum did receive mixed feedback from the public following the release of the film. But since the exhibition has opened, she says it has been well received.

“For us, it was important that the exhibition doesn’t celebrate Jackson or put him on a pedestal,” she says. “[Instead], it explores him and his impact as a cultural symbol.”

Jackson is among the most widely depicted cultural figures in the world, and the exhibition includes works by 48 artists including Andy Warhol, Isa Genzken, and Kehinde Wiley, who made a portrait of the singer shortly before his death in the style of a Rubens painting of King Philip II of Spain.

David LaChapelle, <i>An Illuminating Path</i> (1998). Courtesy of the artist © David LaChapelle.

David LaChapelle, An Illuminating Path (1998). Courtesy of the artist © David LaChapelle.

Miller notes that no works of art by Jackson are included in the show, which instead focuses on how he has been portrayed by a wide range of artists. 

“Michael Jackson is recognizable worldwide in a way that almost no one else is,” she says. “The question is more about art in context and how interpretations can change over time.” She adds that the museum’s goal is not to provide “one-dimensional answers. We are a discursive platform for art, artists, and audiences, and we still see this exhibition as relevant in that sense.”

Child sexual abuse allegation against Jackson first emerged in 1993, when an American dentist name Evan Chandler accused the singer of assaulting his son, Jordan. The allegations are not new,” Miller says. “Jackson has been a subject of controversy for decades already.” She points out that some of the works in the exhibition, such as one by Jordan Wolfson, refer to these accusations.

"Michael Jackson: On the Wall." Theme: Behind the Mask. EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Ari Karttunen / EMMA.

An installation view of “Michael Jackson: On the Wall” at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Ari Karttunen / EMMA.

“Our experience with this exhibition is that relationships with Jackson vary massively,” Miller says. “Just by looking at the artworks, you can see 48 different perspectives, the majority of which are by US artists, and they are quite different from one another.”

Works by Rose Wylie, Pamela Rosenkranz, and Paul McCarthy—represented by his golden statue of the megastar with his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles—are included in the Finnish leg of the show. 

“Nobody wanted to remove their works from the exhibition,” Miller says. “I discussed this with several artists and they strongly felt that their works are still relevant and not always so much about Michael Jackson, but more about the phenomenon that was created around him.”

Michael Jackson: On the Wall” is on view through January 26, 2020 at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art.


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